In Indiana, Latinx and other multiracial and multicultural students are three times more likely to attend a school with a D or F grade than a white student. Over 35 percent of Hoosier Latinx students did not complete high school and the graduation rate for Latinx students is nine percent lower than that of their non-Latinx peers.
These statistics illuminate something Xiomara Diaz-Vargas has long known; many families in Indiana often lack the support and resources necessary for a successful academic career. As the 4-H state specialist for new audiences, Diaz-Vargas recognized an opportunity to bring programming to Indiana tailored specifically for diverse and multicultural students and their families.
In partnership with Heather VonDielingen, Jackson County 4-H educator, and with funding from the USDA, Diaz-Vargas introduced the Juntos program to Seymour Middle School in 2020.
The tagline of the Juntos 4-H program, which was started in North Carolina, is “together for academic success.” The initiative focuses on improving the school experience for students and their families by providing resources and a built-in support system within the community. Ultimately, the goal is to raise graduation rates and provide more opportunities for secondary education.
“The first component of Juntos 4-H is the family engagement workshops,” VonDielingen added. “Families go through a series of workshops and learn how to navigate the school system in their district. This also allows us an opportunity to identify the needs of families in our county.”
The second element involves establishing an in-school club, which elects officials and works together on group projects. VonDielingen said the central goal is encouraging collaboration among students and community building. This component is followed by individual success coaching, which involves meeting with the county success coach on a regular basis to discuss academic goals, challenges and progress. Students can continue this relationship through high school. Through Juntos 4-H, students also experience college life as part of the Juntos 4-H Summer Academies starting in 9th grade. .
While the Juntos program is up and running in Jackson, Marion and Lake Counties right now, DuBois and Elkhart Counties secured funding to establish their own branch with the support of corporate sponsors and Community Foundation.
“The program is growing quickly in the state,” Diaz-Vargas explained. “We do want to make sure that Indiana 4-H has capacity to adequately serve each participant. We want to be intentional in bringing Juntos to Indiana, which means identifying the correct staff and school districts to host the program, and we need educators who are culturally competent and can help identify the specific needs of their community.”
Part of this mission also involves securing financial support within the community, something that VonDielingen credits with helping Juntos in Jackson County succeed. While the USDA helped fund the project, there has also been buy-in from businesses and organizations within the area.
The program was designed with Latinx families in mind, however, it also serves and welcomes students form other ethnic or cultural backgrounds
“We are all in this together,” Diaz-Vargas said. “We want to support all youth and their families and help educators feel comfortable and confident as they serve new audiences.”
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